ROTHERHAM United chairman Tony Stewart believes the rivalry with Bradford City is helping push both clubs towards a second possible promotion.
The Millers and Bantams meet at Valley Parade on Boxing Day in one of the highlights of Yorkshire football’s festive calendar.
With Rotherham having sold their entire allocation of 2,600 tickets for the short trip to Bradford, a bumper crowd is expected between two clubs whose fortunes have been inextricably linked in recent years.
Not only are the Yorkshire duo scrapping for promotion together this term, but they also both went up last season – six years after being relegated together to League Two.
Stewart had just taken over as United chairman when both clubs dropped into the basement division and he admits the rivalry is one he savours.
The Millers’ chief told the Yorkshire Post: “On the pitch we share the same passions, and it is quite amazing how we have shared so many things together.
“We went down in the same year, we shared six years in League Two together and then, happily, we both came up together last season.
“And this time around there are only a few points between us with 21 games of the season gone. It is neck and neck, just as it was for much of last season.
“I believe that rivalry and that desire to get ahead of a Yorkshire rival is something that fires us both up.
“I admit I’ll look at the other League One results and the Bradford one is usually the one I look for first.
“I know there have been a few things said around this fixture, but I see it as a positive rivalry.
“Competition like the one we have with Bradford can push us both on further.
“We both want to beat a Yorkshire rival, as do the two sets of fans. You want to get one over the neighbours. It is all good fun, but I’ll admit I was really pleased when Bradford came up.
“They are friends of ours, plus it is always better to face another Yorkshire rival in the division as there is an edge to derby games.
“There is also the added commercial benefits of two Yorkshire teams because Bradford will bring thousands down here and we will do the same at Valley Parade.
“Everyone is looking forward to Boxing Day.
“We sold out our allocation of tickets a bit ago and I am sure with it being Boxing Day that a lot of Bradford fans will want to be there so it should be a big crowd.
“That will be great, as the atmosphere should be a cracker,” he said.
Rotherham’s Indian sign over their neighbours from West Yorkshire has seen the last five encounters go the way of Stewart’s club.
The most recent of those meetings came in the FA Cup last month as United romped to a 3-0 first-round win that, but for Bradford goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin, would have been much more convincing.
Last season, Rotherham thrashed Bradford 4-0 at the New York Stadium and then triumphed 2-0 at Valley Parade in the return – the middle one of five straight triumphs with which Steve Evans’s men closed the campaign to clinch automatic promotion.
Bradford followed suit three weeks later by beating Northampton Town in the play-off final to ensure the two clubs would meet in league combat for the ninth consecutive year and 12th campaign in 13.
Underlining United’s superiority in recent years is that those last five victories have seen 15 goals scored with Bradford managing just two in reply.
The last three of those triumphs have come with Evans at the helm of the Millers.
With the Scot being a figure that City fans love to hate following the infamous Valley Parade clash with his Crawley side in 2012 which led to six players being red carded after the final whistle, the atmosphere in contests between the two Yorkshire rivals has been crackling, but Stewart insists there is plenty of mutual respect between the clubs.
The Millers’ chairman said: “Mark Lawn (Bradford joint chairman) is a very good friend of mine. Whenever we are away together at the League AGMs and so on, we have a great time. A real laugh and a joke. I suppose that is the other side of the story to the Rotherham-Bradford rivalry. The human side, if you like.
“We may both want our own clubs to do well, but we really respect the other.
“That much is obvious whenever we play at Valley Parade. Their directors are always very welcoming and it is a real pleasure to visit a ground with such good facilities.
“I am sure if Mark was here in this room with me and the Yorkshire Post, he would admit that Rotherham have been a bit of a bogey side for Bradford in recent years.
“But we also know that Bradford are a very good team. We have a lot of respect for them.
“Whoever wins – and obviously, I am biased and believe it will be us – but whoever wins, we will have arrived at the game as friends and we will leave as friends.”